Vanity thought #1389. Preaching up a storm

This phrase caught my attention, I believe it comes from a book Srila Prabhupada Is Coming! by mātājī Mahāmāyā, which I get excerpts from as an email subscription. Interestingly, in that book Mahāmāyā addressed other female devotees as Prabhus as was apparently the custom in 1971. To me it looks strange and when I hear other devotees suggesting that we use Prabhu when addressing females I think they are taking tradition a bit too far. I think devotees at that time were simply unaware that Prabhu is a masculine form even if English “master” is not. Don’t want to rehash that debate, however.

The book documents devotional journey of the said mātājī, from the day she joined until .., I haven’t received the end yet. Second hand copies go for as little as $0.14 on Amazon but I’m perfectly happy with daily deliveries into my inbox. It’s a nice glimpse into the realities of ISKCON in those days. She joined somewhere in Boston or Philadelphia, then she moved to New York and Washington DC, then to Florida, and this particular episode happened somewhere in the South as she was traveling with Transcendental Roadshow led by Kīrtanānanda and Viṣṇujana Swamis.

Actually, the story of Mahāmāyā joining in deserves a mention. I’ll just quote the passage here, as told by mātājī Anaṅga Manjari:

    One morning, just before sunrise, the devotees found a girl sleeping on the floor of the prasadam room. A brahmacari asked me to find out who she was and why she was there. I gently woke her up and asked her what her name was and how she got here. She was incoherent and spaced out, so I didn’t get much information at that time. I told her she was in the Hare Krishna temple, and that I would try to help her if she wanted me to. She was quite unresponsive to anything, but at the same time she was not resistant. I could see it was difficult for her to move much at the time — she seemed to be very intoxicated. So I gave her japa beads and showed her how to chant while I sat peacefully with her and chanted. She tried to chant, but not very successfully.

    At breakfast, I encouraged her to eat, but she couldn’t even manage that very well, so I put some sweet burfy in her mouth and explained what prasadam is. Then I took her upstairs and let her sleep in my room. She seemed to need to sleep off the intoxication. Later, I gave her a towel and some toiletries and showed her where the bathroom and shower were. She seemed appreciative and happy and much more alert. She told me her name was Emily.

    Then I took her downstairs and gave her breakfast. Now she was totally coherent and enthusiastic and happy about where she was. She even wanted to go out on harinam sankirtan with me. She was very enthusiastic. I found out that she had been taking LSD with some friends and had started chanting Hare Krishna. They couldn’t stop her, so they dropped her off at the temple in the middle of the night. A brahmacari let her in and let her sleep in the prasadam room. From then on, she was a very happy, intelligent and sincere devotee of Lord Krishna.

She had never left.

I don’t even know what is most touching there, a girl trying to chant on japa beads when she couldn’t even manage eating food and had to have burfi placed into her mouth, or her desire to go on harināma right away, or her friends dropping her off at a temple when she suddenly started chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa in the middle of their party and couldn’t stop. Either way, it’s heart warming and inspiring.

Some fools accuse ISKCON of chasing followers. How cold hearted they must be if they don’t appreciate living beings earning for Kṛṣṇa and being rescued from the ocean of material existence? These are real people, not just faceless, impersonal “followers”. Behind each “follower” there’s a life changing story that no jīva will ever be able to forget.

Anyway, the book then follows Emily’s journey, her service, her interactions with other devotees who had become household names in ISKCON, her finally meeting with Śrīla Prabhupāda and her initiation, and eventually it takes her on this preaching tour. One day they were distributing books at a fair in Tampa and were busted by plain clothes policemen. Two men were very eager to buy Kṛṣna Book and incense but as soon as money changed hands they arrested Mahāmāya because selling books at the fair grounds was illegal:

    I protested: “I was asking for donations, not selling. You think you’re serving our country by stopping us, but we’re trying to spread love of God, which really benefits people.”
    Preaching up a storm, I talked my way out of being taken to police headquarters and being booked, but the other ladies were already in jail.

Preaching up a storm… Personally, I could never do that but I admire devotees who do. I would have accepted that it was my fault and resigned to my fate/punishment but this young lady would have none of it. Being on a preaching mission for Lord Caitanya she insisted on the right to be treated above the mundane laws and she got it. I theoretically understand how she wasn’t selling books and how selling is different from giving books in exchange for donations but would have never be able to convince others to see it that way, and that’s why I’m not a preacher. However, I would gladly dedicate my life to the service of those who are, it’s all I can ever do.

The phrase “preaching up a storm” could be interpreted as “she made so much noise that it was easier to let her go rather then proceed with the booking” but I prefer to imagine policemen being actually convinced that she was faultless and they would do a noble thing by letting her to “spread love of God, which really benefits people”. I admire devotees who have so much faith in.. Wait, actually it’s not faith, it’s not a matter of belief, it’s the reality of someone engaged by Lord Caitanya, that’s what she was doing and that’s how she naturally saw her actions – as spreading love of God.

I, on the other hand, always have doubts that I’m actually doing these things with personal motives and therefore I could never claim that I am spreading love of God. Maybe one day I will overcome this mental obstacle, or maybe it’s not a mental one and I need several lifetimes of service to attain a similar level of confidence in being accepted by the Lord as His servant.

In the meantime, all I can do, and this goes for all of us, actually, is to seek the opportunities to serve those who are already dear to the Lord, who know how to please Him, and who are fully fixed in their service.

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